Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Bakumatsu (Part 10): Shogunate of Yoshinobu

Tokugawa YoshinobuHitotsubashi Keiki or Yoshinobu ascended as the 15th Tokugawa Shogun in 1867 in the midst of declining power and prestige of the Bakufu after centuries of domination. Explore Yoshinobu’s Shogunate before it ended with a civil war that changed Japan’s history.

Yoshibu’s Beginnings

Hitotsubashi Keiki or Yoshinobu was born on October 28, 1837 to one of the most influential Daimyos, the Lord of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki. At a young age, his father had him adopted by the Hitotsubashi clan, another family branch of the Tokugawa, to give him a better chance of becoming the Shogun.

Indeed, in 1858, at about 21 years old, Hitotsubashi stood poise to become the next shogun along with another younger candidate from the Kii Clan, Yoshitomi. However, political alignments complicated by the opening of Japan hampered Hitotsubashi’s chance.

Hitotsubashi had the support of reformist factions within the Bakufu who believed in imperial restoration. In 1858, Shogun Iesada passed away childless. A new head of the council, Ii Naosuke took a tough stand against reformist and made Yoshitomi, the candidate of the traditionalist, as the new Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi.

Meanwhile, Hitotsubashi remained obscure in Japanese politics for few years under Ii’s regency. But he remained a supporter of imperial restoration and military modernization.

In March, 1860, angry samurais assassinated Ii outside an Edo palace gate. Few months later, in 1860, Hitotsubashi’s father, Tokugawa Nariaki, passed away as well. The death of the two extremely different leaders – Ii and Tokugawa – marked the beginning of the cooperation between the Imperial Court in Kyoto and the Bakufu in Edo under the slogan of Kobu Gattai.

As Guardian of the Shogun

Ii Naosuke
The death of Ii Naosuke provided a historic cooperation between the Imperial Court and the Shogunate. Kyoto saw Hitotsubashi as an ally due to his stand in reforming the Shogunate for an imperial restoration, in addition to his relation to Tokugawa Nariaki, an extreme nationalist and isolationist, to which Kyoto also strongly inclined to.

In 1862, the Court called for the appointment of Hitotsubashi as the guardian of the minor Shogun. For the following years, Hitotsubashi exercised enormous powers and stirred the Bakufu cautiously into complicated foreign affairs and local politics, maintaining as much as possible the unity between the Court and the Shogunate.

On August 29, 1866, Iemochi passed away leaving no heir for the position of Shogun. For months, however, Hitotsubashi rejected the offer from the Imperial Court the position of Shogun, perhaps due to the huge challenges and the responsibilities it held. Nevertheless, to the continuous insistence of Kyoto he accepted the position.

Yoshinobu’s Early Rule

Yoshinobu inherited a troubled Bakufu. Nevertheless, he found the courage to enact reforms in government and military to the fears of the Court and other daimyos. He met friends from the foreign community who supported his desire of modernizing Japan. Yet, one reform in government he thought to be beneficial for the Tokugawa soon proved to be his downfall.

Japan that Yoshinobu inherited suffered from dire economic situation along with political instability as it faced internal opposition from tozama daimyos, especially Choshu. After the disastrous campaign in September 1866, the Bakufu’s coffers were empty from military expenditure as well as indemnity payment to foreign powers as agreed years back. By March 1867, the financial crisis resulted to the disbandment of several military units. It was even said that the Bakufu asked donations from Buddhist and Shinto shrines to somehow fill up government coffers.

Besides the failed Choshu campaign’s financial burden, the Bakufu also lose whatever prestige it had due to the humiliating defeats that it suffered.

Yet, despite the problems and loses that the Bakufu incurred from the Second Choshu Expedition, Yoshinobu found strength to initiate reforms in the Shogunate. He continued to pursue reforms, and expanded its coverage to the government. In June 1867, he attempted to form a state council filled with the largest and influential daimyos. But from more than twenty invited, only five attended - Satsuma, Tosa, Aki, Owari, and Echizen.

When this council met, Yoshinobu faced a petition, led by Satsuma, to pardon the Daimyo of Choshu and lift their banishment from Kyoto. Yoshinobu rejected it initially, hence, his plan of forming a new state council failed. But after pressure from Kyoto, Satsuma, and other Daimyos, Yoshinobu finally agreed to a lenient sentence against Choshu.

On the sidelines of the domestic politics, the responsibility of opening the treaty ports as scheduled by previous treaties fell to Yoshinobu as well. In 1867, he met with western ministers in Osaka in on equal terms, with both parties sitting in a chair in a western manner. He reassured them that Hyogo would be opened as planned in 1868, despite Kyoto not even mentioning the issue of opening the port in its approval. He then worked to get Kyoto’s approval by arguing the embarrassment and conflict that would be the result once the port failed to open. In the end Kyoto approved along with other Daimyos.

French Support

Yoshinobu had the support of France in his effort to reform Japan. The European country assisted to the Bakufu as early as 1865 to forward French interest in Japan as a main source of silk for its textile industry. The scale of the activities of the French ranged from advise, investments, and assistance.

In 1865 French supported the Bakufu in developing Yokohama and the construction of several heavy industrial facilities, from iron foundries to shipyards. This assistance also extended into establishment of schools and other educational institutions. They also obtained a contract to help in building a dockyard in Yokosuka. The Bakufu and the French also conceived a plan to set up a joint-venture trading company that specialized on silk.
1867 French Military Mission to Japan
In 1867, Japan welcomed a French military mission aimed in training and advising the Shogunal army. They trained the Shogunal army in modern tactics, weaponry, and training.

Leon Roche, French minister to Edo, meanwhile, advised the Bakufu in administrative reforms. In 1865, Roche inspired Oguri Tadamasa, a member of the council of the Bakufu, to reorganize the local administration of Japan by abolishing the han system. This was later disregarded after staunch opposition from different Daimyos and officials. Nevertheless, Roche continued to advise the Shogunate and even proposed setting up of a cabinet composed of officials each in charge of specialized departments like foreign affairs, finance, etc. He also inspired Yoshinobu with ideas of reforming the tax system and levies, from manpower to money.

Roche continued to uphold the Bakufu’s integrity with the foreign community. For instance, in 1865, he rejected British proposal to defer indemnity payments in return for opening the ports early. He rejected it viewing such demands as dangerous to the standing and dignity of the Bakufu in the midst of ensuing internal struggles. He only gave in when the British convinced him of the deal benefiting all parties.

But even with the French at his back, Yoshinobu still had to face the reality that the system of the Bakufu was antiquated in comparison to the changing times.

Yamauchi Toyoshige
Resignation as Shogun

Yoshinobu’s resignation came after a proposal made by the Daimyo of Tosa Yamauchi Toyoshige/Yogo and his emissary Goto Shojiro. The proposal led Yoshinobu to consider resigning for the sake of national unity in the face of increasing foreign incursions. In the end, when the aftermath of his resignation proved to be unacceptable to him, Yoshinobu wanted to correct what he saw as wrong.

In October 1867, Goto Shojiro arrived in Osaka and delivered a proposal by Tosa Lord Yamauchi Toyoshige to Yoshinobu. The Tosa Lord proposed to the Shogun to give back to the sovereign Emperor in Kyoto the powers to govern the country as the situation of two leaders brought no benefit, especially as its terrible state persisted. In addition, Goto, with the help of Sakamoto Ryoma, presented also plans of the Tosa Lords to form a British inspired parliament with participation of lords, samurais, and commoners. Yoshinobu considered the Tosa Lord’s petition and Goto’s proposal, going back to the belief of his father, Tokugawa Nariaki, of imperial restoration. His only concern was the retention of the Tokugawa lands and prestige along with some power as well as participation in the soon to be imperial government.

On November 19, 1867, two centuries of Tokugawa rule and almost a thousand years of shoguns ended when Yoshinobu sent his resignation to Emperor Mutsuhito. However, his hopes of protecting Tokugawa land holdings and influence faded as Satsuma, Choshu, along with other Tozama Daimyos and anti-Tokugawa court nobles acted.

Before the resignation, Choshu and Satsuma viewed Yoshinobu’s reform, especially in the military, as worrisome. They then planned to take down the Shogunate as quickly as possible, starting with the proposal of Goto and the Tosa Lord. Goto, a supporter and ally of Choshu and Satsuma Lords, used his proposal to rouse Yoshinobu into resigning. Meanwhile, in Kyoto, Iwakura Tomomi helped Okubo Toshimichi and Saigo Takamori to influence the young Emperor Mutsuhito into their side.

In January 1868, Satsuma and Choshu forces marched into Kyoto. Before the two armies marched, the court removed Tokugawa allies from guard duties in the palace, paving way to a bloodless coup by the two domains. Then, Emperor Mutsuhito issued an edict creating new offices to govern the country and disregarding Tokugawa and ally clans from participating. On January 5, the Mori family along with their noble allies expelled in 1863 were restored to their positions. Finally, Kyoto issued a decree abolishing the Shogunate and rights of the Tokugawa to hold power and lands effectively launching the Meiji Restoration. 

Yoshinobu, infuriated and insulted by such decrees, prepared to march to Kyoto to make things right. His march towards Kyoto led to Japan’s civil war known as the Boshin War. Two ancient institution of authority clashing over for the control of Japan’s future.  

Explore also:


Alcock, Rutherford. The Capital of the Tycoon: A Narrative of a Three Years' Residence in Japan. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1863. 

Beasley, W.G. The Modern History of Japan. New York, New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1963.

Craig, Albert et. al. East Asia: The Modern Transformation Volume 2. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965. 

Fukuzawa Yukichi. The Autobiography of Yukichi FukuzawaTranslated by Eiichi Kiyooka. New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume 12. B. London: Whitrow and Company, 1820.

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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Harris, Townsend. The Complete Journal of Townsend Harris: First American Consul and Minister to Japan. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1959.

Jansen, Marius (ed.). The Cambridge History of Japan Volume 5: The Nineteenth Century. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Marquis de Moges. Recollections of Baron Gros's Embassy to China and Japan in 1857 - 1858. London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company, 1861.

Murray, David. Japan. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896.

Oliphant, Laurence. Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan in the Years 1867, '58, '59. London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1860. 

Satow, Ernest (Trans.). Japan 1853 - 1864 or Genji Yume Monogatari. Tokyo: n.p., 1905. 

__________________. Kinse Shiriaku: A History of Japan, From the First Visit of Commodore Perry in 1853 to the Capture of Hakodate by the Mikado's Forces in 1869. Tokyo: The Naigwai Shuppan Kyokwai, 1906. 

Ward, A.W. et. al. The Cambridge Modern History Volume XI: The Growth of Nationalities. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 1909.

Lord Elgin. Edited by Theodore Walrond. "Letters and Journals of James, Eight Earl of Elgin." In Project Gutenberg. Accessed on June 19, 2016. URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/10610/pg10610-images.html

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